photo of a woman standing in front of a Christmas tree

Why Does Grief Feel Worse During The Holiday Season?

The holiday season is often a time of dramatic ups and downs. Amidst the celebrations, traditions, decorations, and shopping, we also have the overindulging and the family drama. But there’s also another factor that can put quite a damper on the holiday fun. Those of us who are grieving may find it quite challenging to partake in the gatherings and gift-giving.

Grief is tough any time of year. However, the holiday season has a way of amplifying and escalating the pain. This two-month period imposes literal expectations for you to be joyous but you’re having a very hard time finding the holiday spirit.

Why Does Grief Feel Worse During The Holiday Season?

For starters, it’s a matter of timing. If you suffer a loss at another point of the year, the people in your life will probably be more available and accessible. You’ll get the support you need without feeling like you’re competing with a speeding locomotive. From the trick-or-treating to the New Year’s resolutions, people are juggling jam-packed schedules and obligations. It can be a very lonely place to be.

Also, as touched on above, the holidays are sold to us as the season when even Scrooge and The Grinch end up with smiles on their faces. You can look down your nose at other holidays but no one is “allowed” to ignore the end-of-the-year traditions. Therefore, you may even find yourself pretending to feel happy despite wanting to cry all the time. Without an outlet, grief will inevitably feel worse.

Finally, by December, most folks have abandoned all pretense of self-care. Diets are ditched, sleep habits are forgotten, and your gym membership is not getting much use. Just when you need to be taking extra good care of yourself, your mind and body are being neglected. Negative emotions have more of an impact under these circumstances.

photo of a woman standing in front of a Christmas treeHow to Cope With Grief During The Holiday Season

  • Accept your emotions. There is absolutely no shame or guilt in mourning. Do it your way and trust that others will understand.
  • Plan ahead. Talk to loved ones and co-workers about what you’re going through. Ask for help if you need it. Don’t depend on others for transportation so you have the freedom to leave events when you need to.
  • Give yourself permission to say no. Only accept invitations that feel self-loving.
  • Release guilt about not sticking to traditions this year. You have every right to adapt as you see fit and, for that matter, to create new traditions in memory of your lost loved one. For example, you can cook your loved one’s favorite dish in their honor.
  • Brace yourself for well-intentioned comments that can feel invalidating. As a culture, we don’t deal well with grief. Therefore, you may hear lines like “It’s time to move on” or “They wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
  • Talk in advance to anyone with whom you exchange gifts. Let them know if you want or need any changes to the usual agreements.

Don’t Rule Out Fun

If you feel the urge to tell a joke, get on the dance floor, or join in the caroling, don’t hold yourself back. Just as there are no rules forcing you to partake, there are no grief police preventing you from having fun at times. It doesn’t mean you’re not sad or that you didn’t love the person who has passed. All it means is that you’re human and thus, complex and unpredictable.

If the burden of grief during the holidays becomes overwhelming, do not suffer in silence. Reach out to us to get the support you need and deserve in grief counseling.

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